Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Leeds United: Tactical preview and predicted line-ups
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 08: A general view as the Wolverhampton Wanderers players huddle prior to the FA Cup Third Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace at Molineux Stadium on January 08, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

After a dismal run of form, Wolverhampton Wanderers have now bagged seven points out their last nine. They now face a Leeds United side who currently sit just above them in 11th place in the Premier League with a game in hand.

VAVEL UK predicts the line-ups for Friday evening's league clash, with both teams looking to launch an assault on the top half of the table.

  • The Opposition

After conceding four goals in their last match against Arsenal, Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa will be hoping for a response from his players against Wolves. 

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The 65-year-old will most likely opt for a familiar 4-1-4-1 formation. It is no secret that Bielsa's side like to play with high levels of energy, with the Argentinian demanding an incredible amount of work-rate from his players when out of possession. Then when in possession, Bielsa encourages them to play with great fluidity and intensity that can easily overwhelm their opponents. 

The Whites can absolutely dominate games in terms of both possession and shots on target. Only four teams in the league have scored more goals than Leeds, with their recent 5-0 annihilation away from home of West Bromwich Albion an example of what they are capable of.

The Yorkshire side's top goalscorer this season Patrick Bamford has been in great form, bagging 12 goals so far in the league. Winger Jack Harrison has also contributed to the tally, scoring six.

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Both Harrison and Bamford have also provided their fair share of assists, with midfielders Raphinha and Mateusz Klich also leading the assists chart for the club. There is an injury doubt of Klich though for Friday's game, with the Pole playing through their last game with a slight injury.

Although Leeds have been very good going forwards, they have also been quite fragile defensively, with only the Baggies currently conceding more goals in the league so far. This is a direct consequence of playing their adventurous football and will continue to be an issue unless Bielsa changes his approach, which does not seem likely any time soon.

In their last game against the Gunners, Bielsa started Luke Ayling at centre-back, with the 29-year-old having turned out at right-back for most of the season. It was then Jamie Shackleton who was brought in to fill in for Ayling at full-back.

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A key player for Leeds has been Kalvin Phillips, with the midfield enforcer limping out of their win against Crystal Palace. It will be touch and go as to whether the 25-year-old will be fit enough to start on Friday evening, which could prove very decisive for his side's chances.

If Phillips is still not able to pass fit, the responsibility may again pass to Pascal Struijk to sit in front of the defence. However, Bielsa may be reluctant to go with Struijk again, with the experiment not really working out against Arsenal.

  • Tactics and Formation

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo was absolutely delighted with his side's second half comeback against Southampton last time out, with his side playing with a positive intensity that has been lacking this season.

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He will though be cautious of how poor Wolves were in the first half. You just never know which Wolves side will turn up on the day, but Nuno will be feeling quite buoyant ahead of this fixture, with the team on a run of three games without loss in the league for the first time since October.

Nuno will most likely stick with his more familiar and conservative formation 3-4-3. He will be cautious of Leeds' attacking threat and will seek to absorb their pressure and hit them on the break where they are weakest.

This will require a strong and resilient Wolves defence, who have now only conceded three goals in their last five matches. Wolves captain Conor Coady has been ever present for the side, normally operating in his sweeper role. The 27-year-old's leadership qualities were missing in their FA Cup defeat against Southampton, with the skipper's organisational skills not being utilised.

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Rui Patricio put in a fine performance against the Saints, with the Portuguese pulling off some fine saves to keep his side in the game. Wolves will be needing another solid performance from him though against this Leeds side, as he will surely be tested on multiple occasions. 

One dearly missed player for Wolves this season has been Jonny Castro Otto, with the Spaniard getting more and more minutes under his belt as he aims to get back to full fitness again. The 26-year-old has been fantastic already in his recent appearances that he has made and gives his side that extra edge on the left hand side. 

It will be interesting to see if Marcal gets the nod over Romain Saiss and Maximilian Kilman, with both players being great options to have for Wolves, but do not offer as much as the Brazilian does for the side on the left of a back three. At right wing-back, it should be business as usual with Nelson Semedo set to get another appearance.

It is in the centre of midfield where Ruben Neves works his magic for Wolves. The 23-year-old has been inspirational for the side, even when team performances have been disappointing overall. If Leeds allow Neves to play, he will dictate the game and get Wolves playing.

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Nuno has been heavily relying on Joao Moutinho of late, with the 34-year-old starting both games against Southampton last week. The legendary midfielder has come in for some recent criticism, but his wonder goal against Arsenal went a long way to silencing his critics.

With Leander Dendoncker being utilised as a centre-back in the absence of Willy Boly, there will be yet again a place for Moutinho to start in midfield alongside Neves. Nuno could opt to start rookie Owen Otasowie instead, but the young American has found appearances hard to come by in recent times. 

Pedro Neto is currently Wolves' most dangerous and valuable player. The 20-year-old has the ability to conjure something out of nothing and will look to get at the Leeds' defence when the opportunities arise. With Leeds struggling at the back, the Portuguese could find himself with plenty of space to run at the Leeds defence.

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His partner in crime on the other wing is Adama Traore, who can go from insignificant to unstoppable in a heart beat. The Spaniard's form has not been near the levels of last year, but Leeds would be foolish to underestimate how dangerous he can be if given time and space to operate. 

Although Wolves have been in better form of late, they are still waiting for their new signing up top Willian Jose to get off the mark. The Brazilian has not scored in any of the four appearances he has made so far, so will be eager to finally get off the mark.

  • Predicted line-ups

Wolves' line-up then should be as follows, perhaps with the odd tweak in personnel by Nuno:

Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio, Marcal, Dendoncker, Coady; Semedo, Jonny, Neves, Moutinho; Neto, Traore, Jose.

Leeds on the other hand could face quite a line-up reshuffle compared to the predicted line-up below:

Leeds (4-1-4-1): Meslier, Ayling, Alioski, Struijk, Cooper; Phillips; Raphinha, Harrison, Klich, Dallas; Bamford.

This line-up assumes that all the players with question marks over their fitness are deemed able to play.